Bar Nestled Within Heights Japanese Restaurant is a Worthy Destination

Kanpai Club is now open inside of Heights sushi bar Hando at 518 West 11th in the Heights. The new bar showcases an extensive selection of creative cocktails, high-end spirits and sake, quality beer and eclectic bar bites. Houston Food Finder was invited to a media preview to explore the space and offerings.

Intended as an overflow space for guests waiting to get a seat at the main bar, Kanpai Club easily holds its own as a destination for beverages and snacks. The entrance is an unassuming red door adjacent to Hando’s greeting stand near the entrance. Once inside, guests can expect a unique Japanese cocktail bar with hints of a tiki paradise. The relaxed environment means it’s just fine to stop by for something simple, such as as a beer with some Curry Smothered Waffle Fries alongside.

Kanpai Club bar
The bar area at Kanpai Club. Photo by Ryan Kasey Baker.

The Drinks

The menu at Kanpai Club centers around the cocktail program, which features several drinks previously available next door at Hando, while greatly expanding the selection. The intent is to combine sophisticated drinks with the bar staff’s creativity and sense of fun. All of the house cocktails are a reasonable $9 to $12 price range, which is in line with other Heights-area restaurants.

cocktails at Kanpai Club
The signature drinks of Kanpai Club’s opening menu. Courtesy photo.

The bartenders are very good at putting Japanese twists on classic cocktails. One example is Plum’s the Word, a seasonal mule combining rum, Madeira, umeboshi (pickled plum) cordial, and ginger beer. All of the elements come together for a crisp, energizing drink enjoyable for any time of the day.

The Rye Slamma Jamma completes the old-time cocktail lounge feeling. Despite the complex combination of rye whiskey, amaro, housemade sesame syrup, apple and bitters, every aspect of the drink stands out: the warming spices, the aroma and the silky texture.

A closer look at the Rye Slamma Jamma at Kanpai Club. Photo by Ryan Baker

For those who prefer to sip on quality spirits, the back bar boasts a massive selection of rum and whiskey for enthusiasts of every level to enjoy. Also on the drink menu are nine different sakes ranging from $6 to $16 per glass, a small selection of wines by the glass ranging from $7 to $8 and nearly 20 Japanese beers that cost from $5 to $12.

The Food

While guests at Kanpai Club cannot order Hando’s hand rolls while inside, the food options are still plentiful, diverse, and affordable, with the highest-priced item coming in at only $8.

The wasabi shumai from the Relaxing Times menu at Kanpai Club. Photo by Ryan Baker

Diners coming into the Japanese bar early in the day can enjoy the Relaxing Times menu featuring snacks such as tangy wasabi shumai or potato croquettes. The pork- and vegetable-filled wasabi shumai may sound aggressive but the level of heat in each wasabi-laced wrapper is balanced to add a hint of tang to each bite-sized dumpling. The potato croquettes, on the other hand, sport a crunchy exterior protecting a pillowy-soft center and are served with caramelized onion curry alongside for dipping. A small-plate menu is also available and offers dishes such as Brussels sprouts, Wagyu gyoza and shishito peppers.

A consensus favorite was the flatbread, topped with fresh salmon, yuzu kosho (a citrusy condiment), pickled red onions and cilantro. It was like a Japanese-inflected twist on lox. The late-night menu also includes spicy edamame tossed in housemade citrus-infused chili oil, Wagyu skewers and chicken karaage.

The late-night menu is available starting at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The flatbread at Kanpai Club was an instant hit. Photo by Ryan Baker.

Along with the new bar, the Japanese restaurant has launched its new Relaxing Times at Hando, a happy hour available from 3 to 6 p.m. with $5 bar bites and half-price on all house cocktails.

Kanpai Club’s hours of operation are Sunday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Be sure to ask about head bartender Levi’s rotating daiquiris. Also, please note: the bar is cashless, meaning it only accepts credit or debit cards for payment, so prepare accordingly.

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